The Daytona 200 is the oldest AMA roadrace in the U.S. and has undergone cataclysmic changes several times since its inception in 1937. The "great American motorcycle race" will once again face upheaval head-on in 2005 with the Daytona 200 featuring 600cc Formula Extreme machines instead of the liter-class Superbikes that raced there in 2004.
The Daytona 200 started as little more than what a modern enthusiast would now call a really fast Super Motard race. The event was held on a section of the famed Daytona beach and the tarmac running parallel to it. Competitors literally raced down the highway, turned left, wobbled down the hard-packed sand, again turned left, and returned to the asphalt.
The first revolution for the Daytona 200 was a move from the old beach course to the Speedway on the other side of town, which happened in 1961. There were grave reservations about racing motorcycles at the Speedway--and the decision to move the race was only made a month before the event--but the race endured. By 1964, the bikes were using both the road course and the banking.
As the event at the Speedway evolved, it quickly became the accepted norm that the fastest motorcycles the manufacturers could build were used in the 200, culminating with the OW-series Yamahas in the 1980s. All that changed in 1985 when the machinery used for the Daytona 200 switched dramatically from cost-is-no-object exotic Grand Prix bikes to "production-based" Superbikes. Superbikes had been racing at the Speedway since the mid-1970s, but only as a support class--the AMA's Formula One class filled the grid for the 200. Daytona pushed the AMA into making the move to Superbikes because they hoped that Superbikes would be more economical than their F1 brethren.
Regardless, many older enthusiasts proclaim that the 1984 Daytona 200 was the last "real" Daytona 200. It's hard to argue with them since, according to press reports, winner Kenny Roberts' Yamaha went over 190 mphin 1984, mind you.
While many naysayers proclaimed the Daytona 200 dead because of the switch to slower 750cc Superbikes, by the early 1990s nearly all of the factories were contesting the race again (although, in some corners, the efforts paled by comparison to the go-go-go 1980s). Regardless, when Vance & Hines Yamaha's Thomas Stevens broke Freddie Spencer's lap record at the Speedway in 1990, it ushered in a new era of very competitive racing that lasted more than ten years. Again the race endured.
And now, pushed by the Speedway, the Superbike class has been rather unceremoniously dismissed from the Daytona 200 in favor of the mini-Superbikes in the Formula Extreme class. Much like when the race moved from the sand to the Speedway, and from F1 to Superbikes, there is very loud complaining in the paddock, including cat-calls of an orchestrated Honda steamroll, while some naysayers say the last "real" Daytona was Mladin's ultra-fast win last year.
If history is any indication, making unpopular changes in the format of the Daytona 200 does little to lessen the popularity of the event over time. Men have been loading up trailers and air-shipment crates and traveling to the "bike races" at Daytona for nearly 70 years. It's highly doubtful that a class format change will alter that.
In ten years time, "2005" may simply be the answer to a Daytona 200 trivia question.